There’s nothing that’s good about cancer. Patients have to go through a very tough time and some of the side effects of chemotherapy are frequently dismissed. But it’s critical to remember that, for a lot of cancer patients, there will be life after your disease. And you want that life to be as full and prosperous as possible.
This means it’s important to talk to your care team about minimizing and managing side effects caused by your treatment. By discussing possible hearing loss, tinnitus, or balance issues that may develop from chemotherapy, for example, you’ll be better prepared for what comes next, and be in a better position to fully enjoy life after cancer.
Cancer treatment options
In the past couple of decades, considerable advancements in cancer treatment have been made. There are even some vaccines that can prevent the development of some cancers in the first place! But generally, doctors will make use of one or more of three different ways to fight this disease: radiation, chemotherapy, and surgery.
There are distinctive drawbacks and strengths to each of these, and in some cases, they’re used in tandem. The best treatment course will be determined by your diagnosis, your prognosis, and your care team.
Do all cancer treatments lead to hearing and balance problems? Well, each patient is different, but generally, these side effects are restricted to chemotherapy.
What is chemotherapy?
Chemotherapy is a combination of treatments that utilize strong chemicals to destroy cancer cells. For a wide variety of cancers, chemotherapy is the main course of treatment because of its extremely successful track record. But chemotherapy can cause some really uncomfortable side effects because these chemicals are so powerful. Here are several of these side effects:
- Mouth sores
- Hair loss
- Tiredness and fatigue
- Hearing loss
Side effects of chemotherapy tend to differ from person to person. Side effects may also vary depending on the specific combination of chemicals used. Most people are pretty well aware of some of these symptoms, like hair loss for example. But that isn’t necessarily the case with chemotherapy-caused hearing loss.
Does chemo produce hearing loss?
Hearing loss is not the most well recognized chemotherapy side effect. But hearing loss can be a real side effect of chemotherapy. Is related hearing loss irreversible? The answer is often yes.
So, what type of chemotherapy often comes with long-term hearing loss? In general, hearing loss tends to be most prevalent with platinum-based chemical protocols (called cisplatin-based chemotherapy). These kinds of therapies are most commonly utilized to treat head, neck, and gynecological cancers, but they can be used on other cancers also.
Scientists think that platinum-based chemotherapy chemicals attack and damage the little delicate stereocilia in the ears, but the exact cause-and-effect relationship is still not clear. Over time, this can trigger hearing loss, and that hearing loss tends to be permanent.
Even if you’re fighting cancer, you should still pay attention to hearing loss
Hearing loss may not seem like that much of a concern when you’re battling cancer. But there are significant reasons why your hearing health is relevant, even while you’re battling cancer:
- Hearing loss can negatively impact your mental health, particularly if that hearing loss is untreated. Anxiety and depression are closely associated with neglected hearing loss. Battling cancer can, similarly, increase depression and anxiety, so you don’t want to add more fuel to that fire.
- Social isolation is often the outcome of hearing loss. Many different conditions can be aggravated by this. In other words, obtaining the correct treatment (or even buying the right groceries) can become harder when you’re feeling socially separated.
- Chemotherapy-caused hearing loss can also result in balance issues and tinnitus. So can tinnitus also be caused by chemotherapy? Unfortunately, yes. This tinnitus and loss of balance can be an issue, too. When you’re recouping from chemotherapy, the last thing you need is to have a fall.
Decreasing other health issues while you’re fighting cancer will most likely be a priority, and something you’ll want to talk to your care team about.
What’s the solution?
You’re at the doctor’s constantly when you’re battling cancer. But don’t let that stop you from setting up an appointment for a hearing test.
Here are several things that visiting a hearing specialist will help with:
- It will be easier to receive fast treatment when you experience the signs or symptoms of hearing loss.
- Set a hearing baseline. Then, if you experience hearing loss in the future, it will be easier to recognize.
- Become a patient of a hearing specialist. Your hearing specialist will have a more precise understanding of the state of your hearing and its needs, if you do have hearing loss.
So if you develop hearing loss from chemo, can it be reversed? Regrettably, sensorineural hearing loss is irreversible, no matter the cause. But that doesn’t mean it can’t be treated. Your hearing specialist will be capable of helping you address and manage your hearing loss. You may need hearing aids or you may simply need your hearing to be monitored.
It’s mostly frequencies in the higher range that go when your hearing loss is caused by chemo. It might not even have any impact on your day-to-day hearing.
Caring for your hearing is important
Paying attention to your hearing is crucial. Discuss any worries you might have about how chemotherapy may affect your hearing with your care team. You may not be able to alter your treatment options, but at least you’ll be able to closely track your symptoms and treat them appropriately.
Hearing loss can be induced by chemotherapy. But with the right plan, and a little assistance from your hearing specialist, you’ll be able to find effective treatments that keep you hearing better longer.